Rwanda has lambasted a UN report that accuses it of creating, funding and arming a rebel group in neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo as “easily disproven”, “utterly unpersuasive” and “biased and devoid of integrity”.
In a 78-page draft rebuttal, marked restricted and obtained by the Financial Times, Rwanda accuses the expert authors of the UN report of a host of procedural and factual flaws.
“The release of [the report] served as the latest act of a carefully orchestrated media and political strategy to cast Rwanda as the villain in this new wave of tensions in eastern DRC,” says Rwanda’s response, which argues the UN panel fails to offer a motive and relies almost exclusively on unreliable, anonymous or compromised sources to “retrofit” evidence to suit a predetermined narrative.
The UN report from a panel of six experts, published at the end of June, cites evidence from more than 80 sources according to “elevated standards of evidence”, of Rwanda breaking an arms embargo and violating sanctions through its support for M23, a rebel militia whose ranks mutinied from the weak and fractured Congolese army in May.
The rebellion has since overwhelmed a series of villages in Congo’s violent east, pitting it against the army, drawing fire from UN gunships and displacing more than 260,000 people. Still active, it threatens to overrun the regional capital Goma, a UN peace-keeping base.
The UN findings have forced the most significant negative international reaction to date against Rwanda, a donor darling that has made striking progress at reducing poverty in its country of 1m since a devastating 1994 genocide. The US has cut $200,000 in military aid, the Netherlands has suspended budget support and the African Development Bank has delayed a $38.9m payment.
Most significantly the UK, the largest bilateral donor intending to give £75m this year, has for the first time since it signed a 10-year aid pact with Rwanda in 2006 delayed a £16m budget support payment, the first of two disbursements this year, over human rights concerns.
The UK has never invoked a clause in the aid pact, which says it can reduce or interrupt aid in the case of human rights violations committed either via a systematic pattern of events or by a single serious trigger.
Donors are waiting for Rwanda’s response and the UN panel’s final report, due for submission to the UN Security Council in early October, to determine whether much more aid, which at $790m makes up 35 per cent of government revenues, could be permanently at stake.
But Rwanda insists the UN report is bogus. Among evidence it disputes, it says Rwandan uniforms, weapons and ammunition, photographs of which appear in the UN report, could have been purchased anywhere in the region. It says it does not even possess some of the ammunition it is charged with supplying to the rebels. It claims a radio intercept between the Rwandan army and M23 rebels was technically impossible, and that a Rwandan house and hotel ascribed to Congolese war crimes indictee Bosco Ntaganda in fact belong to Rwandan citizens.
It also argues that the allegation that it transported troops and equipment is “technically impossible”, citing bad roads and saying the Congolese army would have detected small boats accused of travelling by the lake that connects the two countries.
While Rwanda admits telephone calls between several senior Rwandan military officers and Congolese M23 rebels and army officers have taken place, it disputes their content. It says they were intended to “promote political dialogue” and instead blames an “international frenzy” following the report for an “almost instantaneous rise in ethnic-based hate rhetoric” in the region. It admits it cannot rule out that Rwandan citizens could have organised covert recruitment operations, but denies orchestrating such events.
Rwanda also repeatedly claims the UN experts failed to consult Rwandan sources or give civilian and military officials accused of wrongdoing any opportunity to respond.
The UN panel report, however, notes it made “extensive efforts to engage with the Rwandan government” and that the government refused to meet the group on anything substantive during an official three-day May visit to Kigali, the capital.
Malaysia disagrees with Rwanda, citing that every country has an equal right outside the Security Council, and that the actions of the United Nations will not favour any nation no matter the circumstances.